1 Chronicles 1:10 (ESV)

10 Cush fathered Nimrod. He was the first on earth to be a mighty man.

Cush most likely refers to Ethiopia.

At this point, narrative or notational comments make their appearance in the genealogy. A descendant of Cush named Nimrod is given special mention. This association of the two names may seem unusual given that Cush is linked geographically with Africa and Nimrod with Mesopotamia. Nimrod is of particular interest for several reasons.

As to his actual historical identity, historians differ. Many scholars therefore compare him with Sargon of Agade or Akkad (around 2300 BC), who was a great warrior and huntsman and ruler of Assyria.1

The origin and meaning of Nimrod’s name (נִמְרֹד) are uncertain. The name is often connected to the Hebrew verb to rebel (מָרַד) and to the narrative of the tower of Babel.2 Jewish tradition identifies him as the builder of the tower of Babel, where man sought to make a name for himself (Genesis 11:1–9).

The author simply refers to him as one who was the first on earth to be a mighty man (1 Chronicles 1:10), but Genesis 10:8–12 gives a little more background of the man. The term mighty is used three times in these verses: he was a mighty man and a mighty hunter (stated twice). Is this emphasis good or bad? It depends on the context. The word mighty could mean hero or tyrant. Hunter may mean a harmless hunter of the fields or one who hunts men to enslave them.3 The phrase before the Lord may indicate approval or disapproval. In light of the name Nimrod, the words acquire a bad sense because he represents human might in defiance of God. His name means we shall rebel or revolt.4 The tendency of this Cushite must have been to rise up against and overthrow the existing order. Exhorting others to revolt must have been the basic trait of his character, and so the term mighty man must refer to him being a tyrant or despot (dictator).5 It is in this sense that the word is used in Psalm 52:1, Psalm 52:3, and Psalm 120:4.

He was the first empire builder and is said to have founded directly or indirectly the great cities and nations of Babel (Babylon), Erech (Sumerian Uruk), Akkad, Calneh, Nneveh, Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah. James Montgomery Boice’s point regarding Nimrod is well taken: Here is the first place in the Bible where the word 'kingdom' occurs (Genesis 10:10). Significantly, it is used, not of God’s kingdom (as it is later), but of this first rival kingdom of Nimrod. This matter was obviously of great importance to Moses, for a similar narrative digression occurs in the first nine verses of chapter 10, in the story of the tower of Babel.6 It was there that men defiantly said, Let us make a name for ourselves. The tower of Babel is all about human independence and self-sufficiency apart from God. Nimrod’s empire was an insult to both God and man.7 It was an insult to God because whatever Nimrod sought to do was done without taking God into account at all. It was an insult to man because all Nimrod wanted to do was rule over men, hunting down men to enslave them. Martin Luther was probably right when he suggested that Nimrod was a hunter not of animals but of men.8 With warlike savagery, he dealt ruthlessly and brutally with the sons of men, as did the Assyrians and Babylonians in later days, clearly demonstrated in their methods of warfare.

Because Nimrod's name is associated with the great cities of Babel in Shinar and Nineveh in Assyria, it is his descendants, the Babylonians and the Assyrians, whose military might may account for the related observations that Nimrod was a mighty man (a man of war, a conqueror) and a mighty hunter.9 Leupold puts it this way: Here is the real story of the founding of empires, for that matter, of the first empires. Having the type of character that we find described in Genesis 10:8–9 in the person of Nimrod, we must of necessity regard both Babylon and Assyria as exponents of the spirit of this world.10 This attitude over against Babylon accords with prophetic utterances concerning Babylon (Isaiah 13:1–22; Isaiah 47:1–15; Revelation 18:21). These early empires, then, are not to be regarded as useful, existing for the good of humanity, guaranteeing law and order in a troubled world. Rather, the achievements of one specific individual character serve as the blueprint for ensuing empires ruled by tyrants marked by lawlessness and revolt against constituted authority. So, Nimrod became a symbol of the powerful empires that would eventually destroy Israel and punish Judah.11

One may wonder why the Chronicler added the comment on Nimrod as the first on earth (1 Chronicles 1:10). This and similar phrases are used to mark important historical developments (Genesis 4:26; Genesis 6:1; Genesis 9:20; Genesis 11:6).12 Perhaps the writer is reminding his readers that tyrannical world powers had their origin already in ancient times.13

Students of world history from ancient days onward could perhaps modify this maxim by adding, Nimrod “was the first man…and by no means the last” who sought to be a mighty man on earth. History is strewn with the rise and fall of many empire builders and tyrants. And so, Babylon became a haunt for jackals (Isaiah 13:19–22) and Assyria a desolation (Zechariah 2:13).

One last observation concerning Nimrod is that “he was a mighty hunter before the Lord,” or in the sight of the Lord (Genesis 10:9). Does this mean that even the sovereign Lord was impressed by his great deeds? This view surely would trivialize our conception of God! Man’s hunting exploits are hardly sufficient to arouse the wonder and admiration of the Almighty, aren't they?14 Not at all. Nimrod’s aggression as a person runs totally counter to what God had intended when He appointed man as his vice-regent or representative in Paradise to care for and watch over his good creation.

Nimrod’s gross violation of men’s rights was seen by the Lord (note the use here of God’s covenant name, Yahweh), who in mercy and grace regards the welfare of men, even if he did not immediately to take vengeance upon the deeds of savage tyrants. Evil men eventually get their comeuppance but often, as the Lord in his sovereignty and good pleasure has determined, only after they have caused mass destruction and unspeakable loss of human life. Looking back to the 20th century, there have been two devastating world wars caused by power-hungry men of might; there was the rise of the African dictators Idi Amin, Milton Obote, Robert Mugabe; and there have been many others who slaughtered countless millions of their fellow countrymen simply because they were mighty hunters of men. The history of this world over many centuries amounts to one long and continuous war of man rebelling against God. These, and countless others, are the true sons of Nimrod.